Jeanette Suchestow

author: Anna Kaszuba-Dębska, 2012


translated by Scotia Gilroy

Jeanette Suchestow was born in Lwów in 1902 as Judyta Kranz. She spent her childhood and early youth with her family in Leipzig and Frankfurt. She lived in Germany for 22 years, and had a perfect command of the German language. She worked as a shop assistant, where in about the year 1925 she met an industrialist from Drohobych who was visiting Germany – Benjamin Suchestow, director of the Water Company and co-owner of Polmet, a Polish producer of lamps, streetlights and metal products – a joint-stock company that he founded with Izydor Schulz in Lwów in 1923. Judyta received a job offer from Suchestow as his personal secretary, and she began working in one of the newest radio factories belonging to the Lwów-based company. She was beautiful, young, elegant, and always tastefully dressed. She played the piano and sang beautifully, which was appreciated by her employer, who played the saxophone and loved music. In the book Drohobych Drohobych by Henryk Grynberg, there is the following reminiscence by Leopold Lustig: Mickiewicza Street was longer than Słowackiego Street. There, where Mickiewicza Street ended and Iwana Franki Street began, was the Suchestow villa, which had hydroelectric pumps that supplied all of the refineries with water. Suchestow rode around in a limousine, played the saxophone and paid my Aunt Toni to accompany him on the piano. It is not a surprise that the rich music-lover fell in love with the pianist with the beautiful voice, charming smile, and deep gaze framed by long eyelashes. He fell in love madly, without restraint. The widower was not bothered by the huge age difference between them, which meant that his own children, Marian and Otylla, would be the same age as his new spouse. 52-year-old Benjamin Suchestow, widowed in 1918 after the death of his beloved wife, Laura, neé Kuhmerker, a cousin of his friend Izydor Schulz, proposed marriage to this woman who was 27 years younger than him. The wedding took place in 1927, and the following year Judyta and Benjamin's son was born, Emanuel, tenderly called Edzio by his parents. Dr. Lustig recalls: He married his secretary, Jeannette, a beautiful German Jew who was significantly younger than him. He worshipped her and gave her anything she wanted… It was true, the rich husband spared no expense on beautiful, elegant clothes, furs, hats, stockings and high-heeled shoes. Judyta was an elegant, intriguing woman dressed according to the newest fashions. Did the young wife of one of the richest entrepreneurs in Galicia catch the attention of her son Edzio's teacher, Bruno Schulz, who was sensitive to feminine charms? Did her modern, elegant, and impeccable way of dressing, her hats with feathers, her black gloves laced up to her shoulders and her high-heeled shoes on slim, shapely, stockinged legs inspire Schulz's drawings? Certainly! Without a doubt, as an inhabitant of a small provincial town where everyone knew everything about each other, he was aware of the sensational appearance of the elegant stranger from Germany. Surely the news of Suchestow's new marriage circulated not only around the Jewish population of Drohobych. Furthermore, the fact that Suchestow had married Bruno's first cousin, Laura, many years before, meant that he had entered into the Kuhmerker family, and he also worked closely with Bruno's brother, the engineer Izydor Schulz. One can be completely certain, then, that Bruno furtively glanced at Jeanette's shapely legs as she took her small, black dog on daily walks. But even if this did not happen, and for some strange reason he did not notice his new "cousin," he would soon frequently read about her in the daily news. Judyta and Benjamin's marriage did not stand the test of time. After a few years some problems arose, and seven years after their wedding they got divorced. Judyta left her husband in 1934 and went to live with her son Edzio in Kraków, supported comfortably by her former husband. She tried to start her life all over again. Leopold Lustig recalls: Jeannette went by herself to the Riviera, where she met Prince Radziwiłł, a renowned profligate. Radziwiłł fell in love and even wanted to marry her, but his family cut him off from his allowance and Jeannette had to support him with Suchestow's money. Which he lost. At the same time King Edward was courting Miss Simpson, and all of the newspapers were writing about Windsor and Simpson, and Radziwiłł and Suchestow, and the paperboys were calling out: "Suches-tov, tuches-tov, mazel-tov!" Newspapers made fortunes off of this. In reality, truth always somewhat differs from recollections. After her divorce, Judyta lived in Kraków alone with her son Emanuel, and the alimony she received allowed her to travel to European health resorts for some rest. Three years after her divorce, during a vacation, Judyta met Prince Radziwiłł at Bad Gastein, near Salzburg, Austria. Fate destined for them to both stay at the Mozart Hotel. The gorgeous alpine scenery was a witness to the fresh romance, one of the most talked-about love affairs of the 1930s. What kind of charm can a 67-year-old man use on a 35-year-old woman in order to conquer her heart? Certainly Prince Radziwiłł (nicknamed "Redhead" by his family because of his fiery mop of hair and long beard) had a lot of experience in this domain. For many years he had been known as one of the greatest eccentrics in Poland, involved in a few of the most renowned marital and misalliance scandals, which the press continuously reported on. He had three unsuccessful marriages behind him, interspersed with numerous romances – a lifestyle which did not become an aristocrat and heir, and thus he was deemed by his relatives a disgrace to the Radziwiłł family. His first wife had been the "Greek Venus" Maria de Bernardaky, daughter of Mikołaj Dymitrowicz. Her beauty had been worshipped by Marcel Proust, who wrote her into his novel. His second wife was the "Spanish marquise," Joachina de Sante Sussana. The third was an English nurse named Miss Mary Atkinson. All of his wives, over time, became aware of his boorishness, his loutish behaviour and lack of respect, and his third wife was even driven to suicide. The sumptuous life of this man who owned an estate in Antonina, and his excessive and light-hearted extravagance, caused him to gain the nickname "Maharaja of Antonina." But over the years he squandered his fortune, became burdened by exorbitant debts, and fell into ruin. At the time when he met the wealthy divorceé Judyta Suchestow he was completely bankrupt, but despite this he was still surrounded by the aura of a powerful magnate and aristocrat, even though in reality he had been renounced by his family and deemed a degenerate. He managed to charm Judyta and win her love, and after his return to his country, they struck up a vast correspondence. In September they spent time together amongst the mountains and beautiful views of Krynica, staying in Patria, the home of the Polish actor, Jan Kiepura. It was here that Michał proposed to Judyta, and she accepted. He took her to his estate in Antonina, where they lived together. His palace was now teeming with social life, where he organized hunting expeditions and extravagant parties for the local elite, and everyone was keen on meeting the prince's new fianceé. At her request he had shaven off his long, grey beard, which altered his appearance beyond recognition and made him seem more youthful. The nosy press reported on trivial events of various kinds, such as: The son of Jeanette Suchestow, Prince Radziwiłł's fianceé, 8-year-old Edmund Suchestow, is staying permanently in Drohobych, where he is attending school. The young Suchestow is having a lot of trouble, with friends teasing him and calling him "Little Prince." Currently young Suchestow is ill with the measles and is staying at home. Mrs. Suchestow is corresponding with him, and recently she has sent him a pheasant shot by Prince Radziwiłł as a present. The happy couple was seen shopping together in Poznań and watching a film in the Corso Cinema. On September 24th, 1937, the registry office in Przygodzice announced their marriage. The prince's family had stubbornly opposed his plans, particularly his brother and daughter, who accused him of bigamy. The matter was taken to court, which gave the press some sensational new material to write about. Radziwiłł was considered a madman by his family. Their problems and complicated schemes were endless. The prince wanted to convert to Judaism for Judyta, while she wished to convert to Christianity for him. In the end, as was reported in Orędownik Ostrowski on December 8th, 1937, Judyta was baptized: Pani Suchestow, the Jewish fianceé of Prince Michał Radziwilł, who has been entertaining herself with the prince lately in Warsaw, has entered the bosom of the national church. In the parish registry book of St. Mary's Church, the following entry has been made: In the capital city of Warsaw (…) on the 30th of November, at 4:00 p.m., Judyta Jeanette Suchestow, the 35-year-old daughter of Jonasz, a resident of Antonina, near Ostrów Wielkopolski, in the presence of two witnesses possessing legal capacity (…) declared that she was born in Lwów on February 1st, 1902, at 2:00 a.m., to Jonasz Kranz and Klara Kranz, neé Steinbach. Upon being baptized she was given the names Jeanette Jadwiga Suchestow. The godparents were: Władysław Franciszek Niemczewski and Jadwiga Irena Misiewiczowa (…) Their marriage is also being planned in the national church. The baptism turned out to be invalid, since the Orthodox consistory court stated that it had violated canonical regulations. Meanwhile, the press did not leave Judyta and her son in peace. Gazeta Gdańska [The Gdańsk News] reported the sensational news: The pretender to the princely miter and estates worth billions is the daughter of a Jewish ritual butcher (…) This affair of Prince Radziwiłł, who wishes to marry the Jewess (…) a descendant of Jenta Kranz, and adopt her 8-year-old son, Isaac, is beginning to assume criminal proportions (…). The press was full of slander and contradictory information, the romance became the object of public jokes, and a New Year's szopka (a traditional Cracovian nativity scene) at the Hawełka Restaurant in Kraków presented puppets representing the prince and his Jewish fianceé in its satirical program, copied soon afterwards by a szopka in Warsaw. The story spread, and Głos Poranny [The Morning Voice] reported in 1938: An English company has offered to Prince Michał Radziwiłł and Mrs. Suchestow to shoot a film based on the prince's life. The main roles would be played by the prince and his fianceé (…) Mrs. Suchestow is eager to make this film, especially since the first shots are reported to have turned out well. For the filming she has spent several enjoyable days in Paris (…) The film is planned to be shot in English and French. The film was never finished, and numerous problems connected with arranging their wedding eventually dampened their love for each other. Such news surely did not bypass a certain Drohobych resident. Edzio Suchestow was a pupil at the school where drawing and handicrafts were taught by his older sibling's uncle, Bruno Schulz. Benjamin Suchestow was raising his son by himself. Leopold Lustig recalls: In the end, Edzio had to give up hopes of attaining the throne, and Radziwiłł had to give up Jeannette Suchestow. She returned to Drohobych. Old Suchestow forgave her, for what other choice did he have? What would this practical Jew have gained by not forgiving her? Their son, Edzio, younger than me, was unusually intelligent and well-read. Tonia taught him to play the piano. The Bolsheviks took everything away from them, and, due to being of the wrong class, ordered them to leave the town. Jeannette became a singer, nothing special, but she had a pleasant voice and she was still very attractive. One of the most important Bolshevik officers became interested in her, and that's why they didn't take them away. When the Germans came, Jeannette, a qualified stenographer who was a native speaker of German, became the secretary of the director of a refinery, Hoechtsmann – she was in the most privileged class. Her relationship with Radziwiłł did not withstand the numerous attempts to finalize their marriage both in Poland and abroad, and the prince, worn out by the situation that was dragging on interminably, found consolation in a romance. This time he fell in love with an elderly, wealthy English widow. Judyta took him to court for his unfulfilled promises, and the trial continued until, luckily for Radziwiłł, it was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Judyta returned to her son and former husband in Drohobych. In July 1941, German troops entered Drohobych and a few months later, in the autumn, the Nazis created a Jewish ghetto in the town. Like Bruno Schulz's family, Jeanette Suchestow and her family were also forced to live in the ghetto. They lived at 6a Garncarska Street, in the main section of the ghetto. According to the memoirs of Mrs. Ciechanowska, Judyta's excellent command of the German language enabled her to work for the Germans as a secretary and translator, together with Dr. Hager, in Drohobych and Lwów. Benjamin and Edzio fell ill, and Judyta was the only one who could work and support the family. Leopold Lustig recalls: He died from throat cancer. She sat next to him every evening. Gabriel, a fat man from Vienna with a huge, red nose, came to see who was already arbeituntauglich [unfit for work]. Suchestow was lying silently, unable to move. Either you do something with him, or I'll have to. (...) Suchestow was unable to speak, but he wrote a farewell letter to her and Edzio, and that same night she gave him cyanide. She received permission to take him to the cemetery in a horse-drawn wagon. I went with them, to help them bury him. The coachman helped me, Edzio had tuberculosis and was very weak. (...) We buried Suchestow in the main avenue of the cemetery, near his family. Did the Jewish protégé of the refinery director, Hoechtsmann, with whom Benjamin Suchestow and Izydor Schulz formerly worked, living in the Drohobych ghetto, and Bruno Schulz, who was the protégé of the Gestapo officer Felix Landau and also spoke German very well, feel like they were part of a privileged class, as Dr. Lustig suggests? Time has shown that they did not.